In front of a joyful, cheering crowd, 914 students–including 636 undergraduate and 278 graduate students–received their degrees at Philadelphia University’s 132nd Commencement May 14 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
“You are collaborative, innovative, passionate and professional,” President Stephen Spinelli Jr. told graduates. “From a university that leads change and defies the status quo, come graduates who will be leaders in their industries.”
The undergraduate class of 2016 studied abroad in 19 countries; tackled industry project challenges from Johnson & Johnson, Comcast, Verizon, NASA, QVC, Target and more; and won numerous national awards, scholarships and contests, he said. “You collaborated with your peers and produced results. You have the skills to succeed in challenging careers.”
Undergraduate student speaker Jordan A. Chaffiotte, who received her B.S. in Professional Communication with a minor in fashion industry management, said, “Philadelphia University is a place where we believe that passionate people with great ideas will change the world.”
At PhilaU, Chaffiotte co-founded Her Campus PhilaU, an online magazine for college women, volunteered with the American Cancer Society and served as vice president of Omicron Delta Kappa, a national leadership honor society.
Chaffiotte brought many to tears when she spoke of her father overcoming his battle with cancer. “My passions, for telling stories, ending cancer or empowering women, they can override any fear I have,” she said. “At least, they can make me forget that something scares me just long enough to do it. I discovered here that at times you have to trust your heart and take a leap of faith.”
In the undergraduate keynote address, University City Science Center President and CEO Stephen Tang shared how failure becomes an important learning step in reaching success.
“Failure is a valuable experience, it’s a natural consequence of risk,” Tang said. “We aren’t fully alive unless we dare to stretch and grow ourselves way beyond what’s comfortable for us. There is no progress without risk, and there is no risk without failure. Progress and growth lead to the opportunities to reinvent ourselves and our lives.”
Tang, a member of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, was awarded the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters for “a successful career in both business and science that embodies Philadelphia University’s belief in the importance of transdisciplinary education,” Spinelli said.
George T. Downs III ’63 also received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters for being the “epitome of an actively engaged alumnus” and a leader in his industry, Spinelli said. After graduating with a B.S. in Textile Management and Marketing, he entered his family’s business, the Downs Carpet Company, becoming president in 1990. He was president of the Visionary Carpet Company and managing partner of Downs Properties LP, and served on the Abington Memorial Hospital Foundation Board and as trustee of the Downs Foundation.
He joined the PhilaU Board of Trustees in 1976, serving as chair from 1981 to 1985 and as a member of the executive committee for the Power to Innovate campaign.
“Your commitment to Philadelphia University has always been enthusiastic and involved, and you have been a vital member in supporting the University’s growth,” Spinelli said.
The undergraduate ceremony also honored valedictorian Sarah Koren, who graduated with a B.S. in health sciences; President’s Award for Excellence winner Hannah Banks, who graduated with a B.S. in Psychology; and Tarah Yocum, the winner of the President’s Award for Excellence from the School of Continuing & Professional Studies.
At the graduate ceremony, entrepreneur Steven Singer was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters and gave the keynote address. Thanks to his creative marketing approach, the owner of Steven Singer Jewelers has won two Philadelphia Advertising Club’s ADDY Awards for excellence, was awarded the Small Business Excellence Award and named the Small Business Person of the Year by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, on which he has served as chairman of the Small Business Board.
Singer touted the importance of passion and being the right person in the right career. He said he found his purpose at an early age, working for a wholesale jeweler while still in high school. By the time he was 22, he opened his store on Philadelphia’s Jewelers’ Row, in 1980, and later founded the Philadelphia Jewelers’ Row Association. His novel “I Hate Steven Singer” campaign created widespread industry buzz and cemented his reputation as an innovative businessman.
“There are three kinds of people in the world,” he told the PhilaU graduates. “People who make things happen. People who watch things happen. And people who wonder, what happened? Looking out at the graduating class of 2016, I know you are people who are going to make things happen.”
Graduate student speaker Maria J. Reyes ’10, who received an M.S. in in Community and Trauma Counseling, said PhilaU provided the opportunity to attend night classes while working as a paramedic. She graduated cum laude from the University’s undergraduate health sciences program and said she plans to practice as a professional counselor and eventually become a teacher.
“I was proud of my achievement, but I knew that I had to go back to school, because with a master’s degree, I would have more professional opportunities—the opportunity to grow, to become a leader, to have a better job and to help more people,” Reyes said. “My fellow graduates, no matter what contributed to your story that led you to be here today, remember we all share something in common—we all chose Philadelphia University to become leaders and pioneers in our fields and make this world we live in a better place for us and for our children.”